ROME  - Another 450 migrants on board two military vessels were stranded at sea on Saturday as Italy and Malta locked horns over whose responsibility it was to offer them safe harbour.

The boats, which are currently in Italian waters, had initially set sail from Libya in a single wooden vessel which was identified early Friday while passing through waters under Malta’s jurisdiction.

But Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who has authority over the country’s ports, on Friday refused to let them dock in his latest show of intransigence over migrants stranded at sea.

And on Saturday, as those on board were transferred to two other vessels, he insisted the boats be instructed to “head south, to Libya or Malta”.

“We need an act of justice, of respect and of courage to fight against these human traffickers and generate a European intervention,” he said in talks with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, his remarks carried by Italian news agencies.

In an exchange of messages, emails and phonecalls on Friday, Rome had tried to push Valetta to take responsibility for those on board the wooden boat.

But Malta said the ship was much closer to the Italian island of Lampedusa, insisting that those on board only wanted to reach Italy.

On Saturday morning, they were transferred to two military vessels but where the vessels will dock remains unclear.

Eight women and children were taken to Lampedusa for medical treatment.

The new standoff kicked in just hours after 67 migrants were allowed to disembark from an Italian coast guard ship in Sicily late on Thursday.

Salvini, who took office when Italy’s new populist government came to power on June 1, wants to block any further migrant arrivals by boat and has banned charity rescue ships from docking in Italian ports, accusing them of aiding human traffickers.

Last month, the French rescue ship Aquarius and the German boat Lifeline, who between them were carrying hundreds of migrants, were forced to divert to Spain and Malta respectively after Italy turned them away.

Italy, Greece and Spain have been on the front line of the migrant crisis, with Europe deeply divided over how to share the burden of the massive influx of people seeking to create a new life in Europe.

Meanwhile, Valetta said the ship was closer to Italy and those on board wanted to head for its shores.

Last month Malta was forced to take the German NGO boat Lifeline carrying over 234 migrants, just days after a standoff between the island nation and Italy led to the French rescue ship Aquarius being diverted and taking 630 people to Spain.

“As promised, I will not give up. Malta, the smugglers and the do-gooders should know this boat will not land here,” Salvini said on Facebook.

According to a statement from Italy’s foreign ministry the boat, carrying “minors in urgent need of assistance”, alerted authorities in Rome in the early hours of Friday while travelling in waters which fall under the jurisdiction of Malta.

The ministry claims that Malta took charge of the operation and asked Italy for “naval help” while not sending any of its own vessels “capable of providing assistance” to the area.

On Tuesday, Italy’s transport and infrastructure minister Danilo Toninelli said on Twitter that maritime laws dictate that Malta should send “its own rescue ships and open its own ports”.

He added that the Italian coastguard would be available to offer support to the island, but that “Malta needs to do its duty”.

However, the Maltese government claimed that it had “satisfied all obligations under the applicable international conventions on coordination of Search and Rescue events”.

Spokesman Kurt Farrugia said on Twitter that when Valletta was notified of the ship’s presence it was 110 nautical miles from Malta and 53 nautical miles from Lampedusa.

He added that the people on board said that they preferred to go to Lampedusa, and that seeing as the ship was on the high seas, Malta “did not have the authority to give it instructions”.

Salvini’s refusal to allow the ship to dock in Italy comes after the decision Thursday to allow 67 people to disembark an Italian coastguard ship that had docked at the Sicilian port of Trapani after a row that caused friction within the country’s anti-establishment coalition government.

The migrants had been held at port as a row brewed over reports that a handful of the group revolted after they were rescued, amid fears that they would be returned to Libya, but were eventually authorised to leave the ship by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte despite the Salvini’s insistence that they only be allowed off the vessel “in handcuffs”.